Covid-19 tests capable of providing results in 15 minutes have been installed in six NWT communities: Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, Behchokǫ̀, Norman Wells, and Fort Simpson.
The system being used is Abbott’s ID Now – the same brand of rapid test used by President Donald Trump’s White House. ID Now is known for speed, portability and ease of use, but delivers results that are considered less reliable than laboratory testing.
As a consequence, any results in the NWT from ID Now devices will be considered presumptive and will require laboratory confirmation.
The territory has 21 of the devices and says they could be used “by rapid response teams if outbreaks occur in a community” or to supplement existing testing capacity.
In the five communities outside Yellowknife, an Abbott ID Now test – alongside a sample sent to a laboratory – will now be the default, a spokesperson for the NWT’s health authority said. In Yellowknife, the type of test you receive could vary.
Each ID Now device can handle 25 tests per day. Anyone returning a positive test will be isolated and contact tracing will begin immediately, the NWT’s health authority said, while a lab double-checks the result.
The devices will “allow healthcare providers to deliver on-the-spot testing for Covid-19 and ensure rapid results to support a quick public health response,” read a statement from the health authority.
“To ensure the highest levels of accuracy, a second confirmation swab is sent to the laboratory.”
Devices will be rolled out to more communities in the coming weeks.
The territory says using ID Now will make it easier for residents to get a preliminary Covid-19 test and “get back to their regular lives quicker.”
“Residents who haven’t travelled within 14 days or been exposed to Covid-19 can return to regular activities after they receive a negative Covid-19 result, they have no fever and when their other symptoms improve,” the health authority said.
The White House had high-profile problems with ID Now, in particular a large number of false negatives – results that indicated someone was free from Covid-19 when, in fact, they had the virus.
However, experts say that issue in part arose because the White House misused ID Now, using it to test anyone entering or leaving the premises rather than restricting use to those who are symptomatic.
Abbott says the tests are expressly designed for those already showing symptoms of Covid-19 and argues its tests are 95 percent as accurate as a standard lab test in those circumstances.